The thing about the violent drug-cartel competition in Mexico is that it's not just cops and criminals. In much of the country, self-deputized locals have taken the fight to the drug lords. And to do it, they've DIY'd some insane welded-armor onto their fleet trucks.

Hey, not everybody can call up the Pentagon when they want a crime-fightin' MRAP. Law and order are dicey propositions in some parts of Mexico, where many cops are in cahoots with the cartels and if anyone's going to stop them, it's as likely a crop farmer as anyone.

As drug-war expert and GlobalPost correspondent Ioan Grillo reports, everyone in this armed struggle adapts and improvises when it comes to their vehicles. The results look like props from a Richard Rodriguez/Road Warrior mashup. But the "real-life homemade tanks have much thicker armor and look even more nuts," Grillo says:

The first improvised fighting vehicles were made by the notoriously bloodthirsty Zetas cartel, headed by former soldiers who defected to the drug gangs. Combating marines, federal police, and other cartels, they created customized trucks known as "monstros," or monsters, that could withstand machine-gun fire and grenades. Security forces hit hard against the Zetas and now have more than 40 of these monsters held at an army base in Reynosa, south of Texas. Others still lurk on dirt roads, with one used to attack a hotel in the border town of Ciudad Mier in April.

Farther southwest in Michoacan state, vigilantes fighting the Knights Templar cartel this year followed the lead to build their own trucks for battle. "We were going into heavy gunfire and we needed protection. So we made these monsters of our own, based on the vehicles that the Zetas had built," says Francisco Espinosa, a 26-year-old cattle rancher who fought among the vigilantes.

Some of those vigilantes have now been deputized by the beleaguered national government, and Grillo visited their motor pool to get a gander at the armor, sand-filled barriers, and gunner positions these guys have slapped onto their super-duty Fords and Dodges.

In truth, the vigilantes' vehicles look tame compared to the "Zeta monsters" on which they were patterned, which are pictured in these photographs by the Mexican military:

But to be honest, I wouldn't screw with the vigilante cattle ranchers' pimped-out pickups, either. Check out more pics and Grillo's analysis for yourself.

[Photos courtesy of Ioan Grillo]